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More power urged for college heads Panel would lose some authority on higher education; Increased funding sought; Task force suggests reduction in schools' regulation


The task force studying the future of the state's higher education system will recommend giving college presidents more power, mainly at the expense of the authority of the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC).

Wrapping up its four months of work in a marathon meeting in Annapolis yesterday, the group called for increased funding for state schools, specifically for the University of Maryland, College Park and Towson, Bowie State and Salisbury State universities.

As expected, the task force did not recommend dismantling the current higher education system but did try to reduce the regulations faced by the 11 schools in the University System of Maryland, which are governed both by its Board of Regents and MHEC.

Over the objections of Patricia S. Florestano, state secretary of higher education who heads MHEC, the task force decided to recommend taking away MHEC's authority over new educational programs offered by those 11 schools, at least for three years.

"My feeling is let the good times roll," said Sen. Robert R. Neall, an Anne Arundel Republican, proposing that the schools be allowed to create and cut programs without consulting MHEC. "If everybody goes out and spends like a drunken sailor, we can take another look at it in a couple of years."

The recommendation in the task force's report, which is to be finished before the legislature convenes Jan. 13, would allow the 11 college and university presidents to create programs in line with the mission statements of their schools.

This would keep, for instance, a school such as Towson University from adding a slew of doctoral programs, but would allow the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to proceed with an electrical engineering program that has been rejected by MHEC largely because of a similar program at Morgan State University.

Florestano argued that MHEC is the only body looking out for the interest of the entire state -- as well as schools such as Morgan and the private institutions that are not in the University System -- but the task force was clearly determined to free the colleges and universities from regulation.

"Either we let the schools be entrepreneurial or we don't," Neall said.

The recommendation calls for MHEC to review the status of the programs offered after three years and report on the impact on the state's higher education system.

The task force is recommending a reduction in MHEC's authority over schools' budgets and mission statements. Now, MHEC has to approve those. Under the recommendation, it would only comment if the budget or mission statement is in conflict with state interest.

After the meeting of the 23-member task force, Florestano said she thought MHEC had retained sufficient authority over budgets and mission statements.

"I'm going to have to let the dust settle for a few days," she said.

Chaired by Adm. Charles R. Larson, retired superintendent of the Naval Academy, the task force was appointed in the summer, in large part because Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat, contended that the University of Maryland, College Park was being hampered by excessive regulation.

The task force report will give College Park much of what it sought, including recommending an increase in funding of $9 million next year and $19 million the year after that as requested by UMCP President C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr.

The report will make enhancing UMCP's status as the state's flagship institution the top priority.

In an 11-10 vote, with one abstention, the task force turned down a proposal that the UMCP president be allowed to present his campus' budget request directly to the governor and legislature, instead of having it lumped in with the University System request.

The group approved a proposal from Towson University President Hoke Smith calling for minimum state funding of $5,000 per full-time student, with a review after two years. This would cost $13.4 million per year, with $9.4 million going to Towson.

The funding requests were approved over the objections of several members, who said only the presidents on the task force were getting their requests approved, with no consideration given to schools not represented, particularly the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"What we are doing is putting a Band-Aid on the top and the bottom of the funding for the system," said Larson. "And giving the legislature two years to figure out a suitable formula for funding everybody."

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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